Ottawa consults Black Canadians, legal support groups on ending anti-Black racism in justice system

By Cristin Schmitz

Law360 Canada (September 6, 2023, 12:51 PM EDT) -- With a view to ending the criminal justice system’s systemic discrimination and overrepresentation of Black people, both as accused and as victims, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) has begun online and in-person consultations asking Black people and their communities — as well as representatives of organizations that provide justice-related services and supports to Black communities — their views on developing Canada’s “Black Justice Strategy.”

The in-person consultations in August and September, led by Black organizations, are guided by the “framework” for the Black justice strategy that was developed by an external steering group comprising nine leaders and experts from Black communities across Canada, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, and with expertise related to Canada’s justice system.

The DOJ said the framework gives an overview of Canada’s history, anti-Black racism in Canada, key issues to address and existing and known gaps in data, along with an overview of existing recommendations addressing the overrepresentation of Black people in the criminal justice system, as victims of crime and as persons who have faced charges, convictions and incarceration.

The framework is being used by a dozen Black-led community-based organizations from across Canada in “leading consultation and engagement activities to validate existing information and recommendations included in the framework, identify missing or outdated information and recommendations, and highlight gaps in policies, legislation, data, services, initiatives, programs and community supports,” Justice Canada said in a Sept. 5 media release.

Notably, the federal government has also invited Black people of all ages living in Canada who cannot participate in the community engagements, as well as representatives of organizations that provide justice-related services and supports to Black communities in Canada, to share their views by completing an online survey by Sept. 29, 2023.

“Every Canadian deserves to be treated equally under the law,” Justice Minister Arif Virani said in a statement. “Despite the progress our government has made, we know that too many Black people in Canada still face systemic discrimination and racism in their daily lives, as well as within our criminal justice system. By consulting with Black communities across the country, we are ensuring that the strategy is shaped by their lived experiences with the anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination that persist within our criminal justice system.”

The DOJ said “it is critical that Canada’s Black justice strategy be grounded in the experiences of Black people in Canada, reflecting the diverse history, backgrounds, experiences and regional realities of Black communities. The goal of this work is a comprehensive strategy that identifies concrete ways to address both the anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination that exists in Canada’s criminal justice system, as well as actions for reform and to modernize it, to ensure that everyone in Canada has access to equal treatment before and under the law.”

The Liberal government said the outcomes of community and online consultations and engagements will be shared with the external steering group, which will use the results to develop recommendations for concrete actions to fight the overrepresentation of Black people in the criminal justice system.

The external steering group’s recommendations will be included in the steering group’s final strategy report, due at the end of 2023, the DOJ said. The final strategy report “will in turn inform an implementation plan, to be developed and released by Justice Canada in 2024.”

The government said Black adults are proportionally overrepresented (at least double their presence in the adult population) in the correctional system. In 2020-2021, Black adults made up about four per cent of the adult population, yet they accounted for nine per cent of the total federal offender population, and eight per cent of all admissions to provincial correctional services in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

Moreover, in 2022, police-reported hate crimes that were motivated by hatred of a race or ethnicity increased by 12 per cent, whereas the percentage of hate crimes specifically targeting the Black community increased by 28 per cent. Hate crimes targeting Black people accounted for 43 per cent of all police-reported crimes motivated by hatred of a race or ethnicity, the government said, citing Statistics Canada.

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